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Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #385, Dave LaRoche (Article 71)

by Paul Semendinger

(Continuing a series…)



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When I think of Dave LaRoche, my first thought is always of “La Lob.” That was the name of LaRoche’s “floater” pitch, his lob ball. Rip Sewell has the eephus pitch, Steve Hamilton the “Folly Floater,” and Dave LaRoche had “La Lob.”

I loved that pitch. I greatly enjoy pitchers with character. Maybe it’s because I never threw hard (and still don’t). But in the end, it matters little why… I just enjoy watching pitchers get by with less than great stuff.

And Dave LaRoche got by…

for fourteen Major League Seasons.

I didn’t know it at the time, but he actually did have good stuff early on. By the time he was a Yankee, at the tail end of his career, he needed to use more guile and cunning. La Lob was a small part of that.

***

Dave LaRoche reached the Major Leagues in 1970. His career began as a relief pitcher and he pretty much stayed there.

In total, LaRoche pitched in 647 games. Only 15 of them were starts.

He did not have his first Major League start until his fifth season (1974). That year, pitching for the Cubs, his third big league team (yes, LaRoche bounced around a bit), he made four starts. IN those four starts, he went 1-1. His lone win came against the Mets in his last start (on August 1).

After that game, LaRoche didn’t start again until 1979 when he started one game as a pitcher for the California Angels. He lost that game (to the Kansas City Royals) in late September.

Then, in 1980, still pitching for California, he got nine starts. As a starter, he went 1-4.

In 1981, Dave LaRoche became a Yankee. He pitched for the Yankees in 1981 and 1982 appearing in 51 games. Yes, he made one start as a Yankee, but before we get to that game, we need to go back, briefly, to that 1980 season with the Angels.

August 2, 1980 must have been one of Dave LaRoche’s greatest days as a ballplayer. It just had to be. He was 32-years-old. He was in his eleventh season in the bigs. He had started games. He had closed games. But he had never started and closed a game…until then.

On August 2, 1979, Dave LaRoche pitched a complete game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He gave up five hits, he walked three, and allowed four runs. In the process, he struck out nine batters! In that contest, the Angels prevailed 5-4. It would be the only complete game of his career.

In LaRoche’s Yankees career, in that 1981 season, he made one start. On August 15, 1981, he lasted just 3.2 innings against the Detroit Tigers in a game the Yankees lost 8-5.

***

Lest the reader not understand, Dave LaRoche did have some good years.

In 1976 and 1977, he was an All-Star.

In those mid-1970s years, LaRoche was a closer; a fireman as they said back then. His save totals, especially for that time were impressive:


1975 – 17 saves (4th in the A.L.)


1976 – 21 saves (2nd in the A.L.)


1977 – 17 saves (5th in the A.L.)


1978 – 25 saves (2nd in the A.L.)

I do not believe there was an American League pitcher in the period of 1975-1978 that had more saves than Dave LaRoche.

Yeah, he was pretty good.

***

Pretty good pitchers are often not quite good enough for the team their on (“If only he were a little better”) and always attractive to other teams (“He’s good and we can make him a little better”).

It’s probably for the reason that LaRoche bounced around so much. Well, that and the feeling that he didn’t always stay overly positive in the clubhouse. LaRoche once became the Player Representative for the Twins because that was seemingly a quick way to get traded away from that team.

His career took him to numerous cities and teams:


1970-71: California Angels


1972: Minnesota Twins


1973-74: Chicago Cubs


1975-77: Cleveland Indians


1977-80: California Angels


1981-83: New York Yankees

***

For the Yankees, LaRoche appeared in 52 games. After pitching in 26 games in 1981 (4-1, 2.49) and 25 games in 1982 (4-2, 3.42), he played in one final game in 1983.

In that game, he pitched but one inning allowing two hits and two runs (a homer by Jeff Buroughs).

That game, which came in August, after a season where he toiled at Triple-A, was the end of his big league career.

***

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